The president told reporters, ”I’m deeply concerned about the tragic loss of life and the escalating violence.”
“This is a matter of great interest to the United States and all who want peace in the region and in the world.”
Zinni left the Middle East late last year as Palestinian attacks and Israeli retaliations began to diminish the prospects for peace talks. The president said Zinni will return next week.
Despite continued violence, which claimed more than 15 lives Thursday, Bush expressed hopes that both sides would seize this opportunity to work towards the truce plan outlined last year by CIA Director George Tenet.
Under the Tenet plan, Israel would lift travel bans on Palestinians and return to military positions held before fighting broke out in September 2000. The Palestinian Authority would then do everything in its power to prevent attacks against Israelis, including arresting suspected militants.
Mr. Bush called that plan “a well-thought-out strategy…. It’s one that reminds both parties there is an obligation to seek peace.”
In a rare joint appearance, Vice President Dick Cheney stood beside the president in the Rose Garden. After President Bush announced the Zinni mission, Cheney said he too would discuss the rising violence with Israeli and Arab leaders during his trip to the region scheduled for next week.
Cheney said he would also discuss the peace plan proposed by the Saudi Arabia crown prince. Under that proposal, Arab countries would recognize the Jewish state in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from lands it occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The vice president said he would also brief Arab leaders on the administration’s plans for the next phase on the war against terrorism during his 10-day, 12-country swing through the region.